Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pink Pistols: Ready, Fire, Aim

-- by Sara

The right wing has perfected the art of the great, fluffy, confectionary fantasy. They take one or two muddled factoids, add a generous gallon or two of their own scrambled preconceptions, whip it all up into an airy froth, then flash-bake in the heat of their rage until the thing inflates like a giant souffle -- which they then serve up to their media audience piping hot in the hopes that it will be completely consumed before it collapses.

The whole "lesbian gangs with pink pistols" silliness was a perfect example of this baker's art in action. At the remove of a few days, now that the whole thing has cooled into a sticky and embarrassing mess, I'd like to wind up our coverage of this with a look at the real-world facts that supported (and, ultimately, didn't support) Billoworld Baking's bizarre but fact-free confection of a story.

About those Lesbian Gangs
As those who've been following our coverage may remember, this story was cooked up by "Fox News Crime Analyst" Rod Wheeler, who got on Bill O'Reilly's show a couple weeks ago and raised the perfervid specter of 150 lesbian gangs roaming the Washington, D.C. area -- and God only knows how many in other cities -- packing pink pistols and raping girls in order to convert them to homosexuality. He further claimed that this was the beginning of a horrific national trend that O'Reilly's viewers needed to be aware of.

Boggled by this preposterous claim, our friends at the SPLC went to work almost immediately to nail down the facts regarding these "gangs." Late last week, they issued an Intelligence Report -- which, predictably, found that Wheeler's story was bogus in almost every detail:
Gaithersburg, Md., Detective Patrick Word, president of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigators Network, an intelligence-sharing organization of 400 criminal justice professionals in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, said there is no evidence whatsoever of a lesbian gang epidemic in his region. "Our membership reports only one lesbian gang," Word told the Intelligence Report.

Sgt. Brett Parson, a member and former commander of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, also questioned Wheeler's numbers. "We have 150 to 175 total gangs in the D.C. area, and out of those only nine where the predominance of members are female," he said. "You simply can't make the jump that they are lesbians. I think it is fair to talk about violence and female gangs. But to sensationalize or marginalize a community by making a statement like that seems irresponsible."

Confronted by the Intelligence Report, Wheeler was unable, in several phone and E-mail exchanges over a two-day period, to specify a single law enforcement agency or officer, police report, media account or any other source he relied upon for his D.C. area lesbian gangs claim. But he insisted that his report was accurate and that any law enforcement officer who disagrees is "out of touch." "For some reason or other, these organizations don't lay it on the line because they don't know what is going on on the streets," said Wheeler. "This is a serious crisis and the so-called experts are missing it."

The only specific instance of actual violent lesbian gang activity that Wheeler cited on "The O'Reilly Factor" was a May 19 attack on a 15-year-old boy who was stabbed near a transit station in Prince George's County, Md. "And the police found out that it was a group of six women who identified themselves as being members of a lesbian gang that actually attacked this young man," Wheeler told O'Reilly.

According to a June 15 article in The Washington Post, however, two of the three individuals arrested in that assault were teenage males, though the article did note that, "Metro officials said the fight was between two gay and lesbian gangs that operate in Maryland."

An extensive Internet search seeking to verify O'Reilly's assertion in the introduction to Wheeler's interview that a lesbian gang called Dykes Taking Over is "terrorizing people" in Philadelphia turned up only one possible source. WCAU-TV, a local NBC affiliate in that city, reported in 2004 that a small group of 8th-grade girls at a West Philadelphia middle school were allegedly "bullying, groping and harassing" other girls in gym class with "gay remarks." The report made no mention of the 8th-graders using pink pistols or other weapons.

Similarly, O'Reilly's introductory mention of a Tennessee lesbian gang called Gays Taking Over that is "involved in raping young girls" appears to have been based solely on a highly dubious Feb. 28 television report from WPTY-TV, an ABC affiliate in Memphis, Tenn. Featuring dramatic "reenactments" of high school bathroom rape scenes shot in grainy black-and-white footage, the lengthy segment's vaguely salacious claims about local high school girls being raped and "sodomized" with "sex toys bought on the Internet" was based almost entirely on the lurid musings of a single Shelby County gang officer.

Titled "Violent Femmes," the sweeps-week segment was so thinly sourced and grotesquely sensationalized that it's difficult to believe that any professional journalist found it to be credible. And it wasn't. Under intense pressure from local gay and lesbian activists, the affiliate's station manager finally admitted that WPTY-TV's reporters had neither independently verified the gang officer's overheated claims nor obtained any documentary evidence such as arrest records or written police reports to substantiate their tale. As the station grudgingly conceded, "Our investigation did not turn up widespread violence in schools due to this."

The third case O'Reilly referenced, the assault on 29-year-old Wayne Buckle in New York City last August, did actually occur. Buckle was whipped with belts and stabbed by women who identified themselves as lesbians. But there is no evidence the women are members of a criminal gang, and O'Reilly failed to report that the attack was prompted, according to the New York Daily News, by Buckle spitting, cursing, and flicking a cigarette at the women after one of them rebuffed his sidewalk sexual advances.
It's obvious that Wheeler concocted his tale by connecting some very flimsy dots, and then tried valiantly to arrange them all into a picture that he could sell to O'Reilly's audience. And O'Reilly, ever on the lookout for a new outrage that will pander to his viewers' prejudices, jumped onto the bandwagon without a second thought or a moment's question.

We've asked it before, but really need to be asking it again: Why is this man still on the air?

About Pink Pistols -- The Group
Yes, there really is a group called the Pink Pistols. It's a gay shooting club with 46 chapters in 32 states. "I have no idea how many members we have," sighs spokesperson Gwen Patton. "Somewhere between seven and ten thousand. It's hard to know, because there are no dues and no membership forms. You're a member if you say you're a member."

Founded in 2000, Pink Pistols is one response to the very real threat of gay-bashing. Its chapters hold events at local gun ranges to teach GLBT members gun use and gun safety; helps members choose and purchase appropriate firearms; and walks them through the process of getting legal carry permits in places where they're available. Well aware of the deep conservatism of American gun culture, they also see themselves as ambassadors bridging the wide gap between the gun and gay communities.

According to Patton, this defensive knowledge has served quite a few of the group's members well. "One of our members stopped a home invasion -- she and her partner were "the gay couple in town," and this guy was just out of rehab and hit them because he thought they had money. She ended up shooting him in the neck. Another member -- this was before he joined Pink Pistols -- used a gun to protect himself from a bashing. Some guys followed him out of a bar, intent on doing some damage. He turned around and pulled out a .38. They said, "Holy shit, he's got a gun!" -- and ran off. And these aren't the only cases -- there are plenty more."

Patton is bemused by the fact that her group has suddenly found its way into the news, and can trace the origin of much of Wheeler's misinformation to articles that have been published over the past two months. She recalled the Dykes Taking Over article in the Philadelphia paper in June; and WPTY-TV's subsequent coverage. Not long after that, re notes, the Arcadia College newspaper did their own take. "That article talked about a group of girls who weren't a gang, but just sick of being picked on.," said Patton. "The article was also about the reactions of straight kids who don't like it that the gay kids are standing up for themselves."

Around the same time, Patton got word of an article in the National Observer that talked about a new marketing trend among some handgun manufacturers, who are trying to appeal to women by making guns with pink accessories. Patton found this so funny that "I did a quick member survey to see if anyone had bought one. Only one person answered the survey saying they had a pink gun -- but I think that may have been a goof."

"The National Observer article had one brief sentence at the end mentioning our group. What I think happened is that Mr. Wheeler grouped us all together, because he saw the name of our organization at the bottom of that article.

"And then I started getting phone calls -- first from Radar Online, saying Bill O'Reilly had had this guy on. I had to explain to the reporter that we're not criminals, we're a law-abiding group focused on self-defense, and we abhor this kind of thing."

Patton's generously charitable about Wheeler's mischaracterization of her group. "I don't think Mr. Wheeler was deliberately telling falsehoods. I think he was probably under deadline, got a little rushed, and misspoke. I give him the benefit of the doubt -- these things happen. He just got a little ahead of himself. And the fact that he belongs to a church in Maryland that's rabidly anti-gay has nothing at all to do with it."

Interestingly, stressed Patton: "At no time has Fox, Mr. O'Reilly's show, or Mr. Wheeler talked to us directly." She has made it clear, on her blog and elsewhere, that her group is still awating an apology.

About Pink Pistols -- The Guns
Like the Pink Pistols gay shooters, actual pink pistols do really exist. Patton has found two sources for them -- for anyone who wants one, which is apparently a very limited market. "The gun manufacturers do this to market to women," she says. "And it doesn't work."

There are persistent rumors that Glock makes a pink 9mm pistol. Like so much about this story, this isn't exactly accurate -- but it's not entirely wrong, either. The Glock 9mm is made with a number of ceramic components, which some third-party ceramics coating companies are customizing with colorful patterns. (One good example is here -- no pink guns, but it's quite obvious these people could readily produce one if asked.)

According to Patton, the Israeli manufacturer Bul recently made a pink pistol as well. "The lower part of the weapon is made of a fuschia-colored polymer. I know people who bought them as goofs, because they're such an ugly thing. Nobody wants to buy these." She noted that Charles Daly, a large gun distributor, liquidated the last of them at fire-sale prices -- and, due to their unpopularity, probably won't be making any more.

According to a 2003 press release, the Brady Center for Handgun Control is deeply concerned about the trend toward brightly-colored pistols, fearing that guns will be mistaken for toys by curious children.

Cleaning Up The Mess
This episode has probably put a bullet, so to speak, in Rod Wheeler's career as the "Fox News Crime Analyst." The SPLC report notes that Wheeler has made over 500 appearances on MSNBC, Court TV, and Fox. His personal website (which is now down) featured endorsements from Bill O'Reilly, who hailed Wheeler as "America's most recognized and trusted authority on crime analysis and law enforcement"; and Tony Snow, who beamed, "We turn to Rod Wheeler to help us better understand and solve some of these terrible crimes in America." Nice references for a guy who only spent seven years doing actual police work: the SPLC found a 1994 Washington Post article describing how Wheeler's career as a cop ended when a drug test turned up positive for marijuna. Wheeler still maintains that the samples were mixed up and that he was "exonerated." However, he also never returned to the force after that.

Somehow, I doubt we'll be turning to him much any more. All that remains at is one apologetic paragraph:
"During the O’Reilly Factor segment on June 21st, while engaged in a discussion on Lesbian gangs, I inadvertently stated that gang members carry pistols that are painted pink and call themselves the "Pink Pistol Packing Group." I was not referring to the gay rights group 'Pink Pistols' who advocates for the lawful rights of gays to carry weapons for protection. Further, I mentioned that there are "over 150 of these gangs" in the greater Washington DC area. What I actually meant is that there are over 150 gangs in the Washington DC area, some of which are in fact lesbian gangs. Lastly, I mentioned in the segment that there is this "national epidemic" of lesbian gangs. A better choice of words would have been to say that there is a growing concern nationally, and especially in major urban areas, of increased gang activity, which includes some lesbian gang activity.

I apologize for any misunderstanding this may have caused."
Let's give the final word to Rashad Robinson, the senior director of media programs for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) -- the man who went on the O'Reilly show last week to try to set things straight . From the SPLC report:
[Robinson] said that while he wasn't pleased to see the inflammatory "Violent Femmes" segment used as a source for a national television "report" on Fox News, "I wasn't startled."

"The sad truth is that sensationalized, undocumented, fear-driven reports about [gays and lesbians] preying on children are proven to be a ratings winner, and the station managers and news producers know that because they're reporting about gays and lesbians they don't have to be as concerned about backing up their sensationalism with actual facts and figures....The O'Reilly segment essentially reported a national epidemic of lesbian gangs preying on young girls without offering up one solid figure or one credible source. This type of reporting creates a climate of homophobia and fear and perpetuates dangerous stereotypes of gay people and definitely helps feed into a climate of anti-gay discrimination and violence, which is a true national epidemic, but not one you're likely to see reported with such zeal by Bill O'Reilly."

Update: Commenter A Hermit hops into the wayback machine (nothing ever really goes away on the Internet), and comes up with Wheeler's old endorsements page. Go look: it's a virtual rogue's gallery of people whose questionable "news judgment" is on full, incriminating display. (Rita Crosby calls Wheeler "the best homicide detective I've ever met." Wheeler worked homicide? Really? When? Boy, there's a claim I wouldn't take at face value...)

No comments: